The Republican Party regained control of the House of Representatives yesterday but fell short of reclaiming the Senate, according to projections based on early returns, riding a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment to success at the polls.
Yesterday’s conservative resurgence affected both veteran and newly elected law-makers and reached across the country. But Republican success at the polls fell short of the “tsunami” that some had projected as Democrats retained key seats in Senate and gubernatorial races.
As The Crimson went to press, Republicans had gained 59 seats in the House, 20 more than the 39 necessary to gain control of the House.
On the heels of a deep economic recession, voters have grown broadly dissatisfied with the Barack Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress. That disaffection was prominently on display last night as voters consistently chose to pull the lever on behalf of challengers.
The influence of the Tea Party, the populist right-wing movement, made its presence most clearly felt in Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina where conservatives unseated more moderate candidates. In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul, a darling of the Tea Party, captured a decisive victory. In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio unseated former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who ran as an independent.
One of the Senate’s most liberal members, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, lost to Republican challenger, Ron Johnson, last night. Meanwhile in South Carolina, Nikki Haley, an anti-establishment Tea Party candidate, triumphed in the gubernatorial race.
While the Tea Party delivered the votes necessary to assure victory for some of its favored candidates, its ability to deliver votes did not quite live up to the most hopeful pre-election estimates.
“I think it’s been overstated,” said Richard Parker, a Kennedy School lecturer. “Overstatement of an insurgent movement is a characteristic of the American press.”
In California, Democratic candidates fought off self-funded challengers from the right who poured money into the race. Jerry Brown defeated Meg Whitman to become the next governor. Incumbent Barbara Boxer defeated her challenger, Carly Fiorina, as well, according to early results.
If the Republicans sought to win the Senate, the night did not get off to the right start for GOP hopefuls as early returns on the East Coast did not lay the groundwork necessary for a Republican take-over of the Senate.
In Delaware, Republican Christine O’Donnell was unable to make inroads among moderate voters, many of whom viewed her as a right-wing extremist, and lost resoundingly to Democrat Chris Coons.
With the help of Democrats in Congress, Obama has pushed through a series of sweeping legislative projects—including health-care reform, a financial reform bill, and a massive stimulus bill—during his first two years in office. But many of those measures have grown unpopular with the electorate, and that sense of disillusion manifested in yesterday’s mid-term elections.
“There’s no question that midterm elections in a president’s first term are in many respects a referendum on his presidency, and the fact that he campaigned as extensively as he did meant that voters would interpret it as a referendum on his presidency,” said Kennedy School Professor and presidential scholar Roger B. Porter.
During the past year, the Tea Party has capitalized on wide-spread dissatisfaction and fear of strong federal social policy to foment anger against incumbent Democrats.
“Do we wish to live free or be enslaved by debt? Do we believe in the individual or do we believe in the state?” said Paul, the victorious Kentucky Republican, in remarks that expressed some of the underlying currents of the Tea Party movement. “America can surmount these problems if we just get government out of the way.”